Monday, April 30, 2007

April 30 Haiku

blossoms 5.JPG

The scent of lilacs -
sweaters, bookbags abandoned.
Sun shines on pale skin.

I was making a list of happy things for the end of April and someone mentioned the scent of lilacs. Mmmmm yes! They are one of my favorite flowers. I have loved them since I was a kid. When I lived in the far north of China there was a huge hedge of lilacs directly outside my window. They bloomed near the end of May. I finally have lilacs in my own yard and they are in bloom today, April 30.

Here they are on March 24:

lilac buds.JPG

What a lovely end to a month of daily haiku! Click on a picture to see a slide show on Flickr of their changes over the last month.

My Daemon

I tried this last week but couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong in imbedding the code to blog it. I think when copying and pasting the code from the Golden Compass website something went wrong. I have fooled around with it and I think it's working now. Please let me know what you see.

I always wanted to have a cat type so I hope it doesn't change much. I love the Golden Compass books. Go to the website and get your own daemon here. Wands and Worlds has a list of all the other bloggers doing it. Thanks to Kelly and Trisha for the links.

TV Turn Off Week's End

Yesterday I broke down and let the boys watch a Bob The Builder DVD. We stayed home from church because Buddy is still recovering and I didn't want him exposed to any germs so we hadn't been away from home all weekend. We spent the morning outside in the yard, me mowing, trimming and weeding and them messing around in the dirt and getting chased out of the garden when they stepped on my flowers. I've noticed that it is somewhat frustrating trying to get garden work done with a two year old helping you.

I flipped the switch on the surge protector and put in the DVD so I could clean up the kitchen and fix lunch without interference. What I really notice about TV this week is that it is a chance to have a break from their needing me. Punkin is old enough now that he gets interested in the show and stays out of mischief for at least ten or fifteen minutes when the TV is on. Without it he is climbing on chairs to pull things off the high shelves as soon as my back is turned.

We watched the same Bob video in the late afternoon. I was really tired and wanted to take a break so I turned it on and sat in our big comfy armchair. The boys are a little like cats - as soon as I sit down they run to climb up on my lap. I like sitting there with them all snuggled together. Punkin squirms around a lot trying to get comfortable and they argue over who has the biggest piece of me when I am reading to them like that. But when the TV is on they sit still for at least ten minutes. I can stare out the window and daydream or think about stuff without constant questions. It's nice to have that relaxing time with them.

The things I don't like about TV are the focus on commercialism, the stereotypes, the way it dulls your brain. The kids videos we watch now may be fine, and even a little educational. But the habit of watching, when learned this young, effects brain development and sets them up for all the media older kids, teens and adults end up spending so much time watching. I would rather invest the time and energy into giving them creative free play time that will train their brains in more thoughtful directions.

With my oldest son Buster my strategy was one of inoculation. I thought if I let him watch some controlled TV/media, just enough so he isn't deprived of the social connections, but block out the worst of the negative influences while at the same time modeling the target behavior, he would grow up with a healthy balance. The target behavior is to be connected and involved in the world using media as a tool but independent enough of it's influences to stay an alert, independent and creative thinker. For the most part I think that worked. Although he has a PlayStation he doesn't use it much or invest in buying new games. He rarely turns on the TV. He is always on the computer, however, so I don't know how that plays into it. I'd rather be online than watch TV too of course.

Anyway, here is a list of all the positives I see this week in not watching TV in our house:
  1. More time to relax, play, garden, talk, read together
  2. The boys spent time drawing and writing with crayons, markers, pencils
  3. They played with the trains and blocks and doll house more
  4. They played together more
  5. I didn't feel as rushed or stressed in the evening
  6. I enjoyed my house and garden the way it is, instead of thinking I need new carpets, all new furniture, etc.
  7. I didn't think about shopping much
  8. We didn't see pictures of the war, murders, violent crime, etc. every night after dinner
  9. I felt more peaceful and content and connected to my boys
  10. I read them about six books a day instead of two or three
Yesterday when I told Buddy I was going to put a DVD in he said, "Does that mean it is TV turn ON week now? YAY! TV turn on week!" I guess he missed it a little.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

April 29 Haiku


Watching them eat,
listening to their chatter -
sunshine and birdsong.

This is the best loaf of bread I have ever made. It is gluten free, which means I couldn't use wheat flour. It has taken me about three years to learn to make bread with alternate flours so I can digest it well. A lot of my loaves haven't turned out very well. It is the gluten in traditional wheat flour that makes bread have it's characteristic rise and texture. This loaf turned out so well and I was delighted with my sandwich yesterday! This morning I am having toast - what joy!

The haiku is about the feeling I have when I have cooked for my boys. I love to sit back and watch them eat. Do you do that with the people you love? It is so satisfying just listening to them tell stories or chatter about whatever is on their minds. Eating dinner together is a daily sacrament - the recognition and celebration of the holy in our common everyday lives. What a blessing to share it!

April 27 Haiku

three jonquils.JPG

She cries on the phone;
my neighbor on her porch -
watering flowers.

Living in a duplex, we share some things in life that we only feel the depth of, and have no knowledge of the surface details or intercepting reasons. My neighbor is sad this weekend and things are in an upheaval. I water my garden and try not to intrude on her search for a private phone conversation...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

No TV Day Five

I haven't been posting as much as usual this week because my four year old is recovering from Tonsillectomy surgery. I decided to plan on a lot of extra TLC time this week, so along with no TV I cut back on my computer time. What I noticed most is how much more relaxed our home feels this way.

Even with Buddy being sick, feverish and often whimpering in pain (the two or three days after surgery are the worst) I have felt much less stress than usual. To be fair, much of his calm acceptance of no TV might be due to the medication. He's been on codeine all week because his throat is so painful whenever that wears off. So although it might seem at first that cutting out TV for a sick boy is unimaginable, I think it might have made it easier. He has asked for TV in the evenings, but when I remind him that we are not watching TV this week he talks about it a bit and then is distracted by some other activity without much trouble. We have spent time after dinner drawing, playing with trains or legos and reading extra stories.

What I have missed on TV is the evening news. I have given up on almost all other TV shows, just because they no longer interest me. There are so many other things I would rather do with my time - like blog! But I still like to watch the evening news. I have missed it this week. The thing is, I want to sit down after dinner and catch up on the mayhem of the rest of the world at the same time that my boys want my undivided attention. I want them to go in the other room and play quietly and they want to sit in my lap and talk to me or play some loud game that involves me. It is really stressful for all of us if I am trying to watch war and crime news while they are running around trying to get my attention. So when I cut out the TV and focus on them for that half hour we are all more peaceful and relaxed.

Spending less time on the computer has given me a little more space to relax too. I miss the contact with all my blogging cyber friends. I have been aware of feeling lonely and disconnected this week - but I have turned to friends in real life more, and that is healthy and satisfying.

Today and tomorrow might turn out to be the real trial. During the week our time at home is so short - we only have an hour or so in the morning and a few hours before bedtime in the evening. The weekend is a different story. It is going to rain today. Buddy can't go out because he is still in recovery. He hasn't started eating much yet and gets tired quickly. If Saturday and Sunday are going hard and I am starting to feel like running out of the house screaming, frothing at the mouth and pulling my hair out, then I will put in a video. As Buddy starts to feel better he gets cranky and obstinate so this might be a rough weekend for us.

In any case, I am glad we did turn off the box this week, and I hope I can continue to find other ways to keep up with the news without watching in the evenings. How did it go for you if you cut back on screen time?

Unplug Your Kids has a link to the NPR story that ran this week. It's not to late to participate, BTW. You could just do a day or part of a day this weekend. See if you can find a fun, relaxing activity to share with family or friends instead of some of your regular TV time. It is really amazing how refreshing it is!

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Earth Is Painted Green

A Garden of Poems About Our Planet, edited by Barbara Brenner, illustrated by S.D. Schindler. Scholastic, Inc., 1994.

I bought this book when I was teaching first grade and my oldest son was in first grade. I absolutely love it. The poems in this collection are full of wonder and glory, praise and celebration, silence and song. It is divided into sections: Earth Green, First Green, Tree Green, and Planting Green, Growing Green, Summer Green, Harvest Green, Last Green, Forever Green. Guess what my favorite color is? Ha Ha! This is MY book!

Many of my favorite poets are included: X.J. Kennedy, Ryoto, Harold Henderson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Newton Peck, Charlotte Zolotow, Valerie Worth, David McCord, Margaret Wise Brown, Mary Ann Hoberman, Myra Cohn Livingston, Onitsura, Sanpu, (haiku, of course), Edward Bliss Reed, the list goes on.

I had a difficult time choosing only one poem to include here for you. You really ought to find this book and gather some young ones about you and read it all this weekend. Especially if it rains by you, as it is here for me. Rain on the roof is the perfect background music for these green gems...

To Look at Any Thing

To look at any thing,

If you would know that thing,

You must look at it long:

To look at this green and say

"I have seen spring in these

Woods," will not do - you must

Be the thing you see:

You must be the dark snakes of

Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,

You must enter in

To the small silences between

The leaves,

You must take your time

and touch the very peace

They issue from.

-John Moffitt

Friday Poetry Round Up

Big A, little a was planning to do the Friday Poetry round up but she is very busy today so I said I would try to do it. It's my first time so I hope I can handle it! I have my post up here, and it is GREEN.

So far this is what I have seen posted:

Monica is doing Robert Pinsky on Difficult Poetry at educating Alice. Fascinating discussion!

Fuse # 8 has a special poem for her sister, by request, from The Collected Works of Susan Ramsey.

At 7 Imp Eisha is posting some Rainer Maria Rilke and thinking about who she is, who she wants to be, what she wants to be doing.... that fits in nicely with my rainy Friday! I love Rilke too!

Here's a new-to-me blog: Mona's Barbaric Yawp. She has posted three original poems written around the theme word for this Friday's Poetry - "cloud". (I guess using my blog name here would be cheating?). I love her poems!

Scholar's Blog is reminding us that it was Shakespeare's birthday on April 23. She has given us a passage from Richard II and lines from Sonnet 30. Lovely!

By Sun and Candlelight reminds us that it is Arbor Day. She has a well loved poem up, a list of tree books, some ideas of ways to celebrate and links to tree websites. You know how much I love trees so I am groovin' on this!

Bookshelves of Doom is taking a page from my book - she invites us to "write a haiku about something work-related that you HATE." Don't know if I can do that.... hmmm... What do you think?

Oz and Ends celebrates Shakespeare with Sonnet 20: Prick'd Out for Women's Pleasure. Hoo boy! A good one for spring.

Elaine Magliaro is still a poetry fool at Blue Rose Girls, with Poetry Friday Potpourri #4 with a favorite funny children's poem for spring entitled "The Worm"; a link to National Poetry Month at Infoplease; and links to all my poetry posts of the past week at Wild Rose Reader. At Wild Rose Reader she has an original poem entitled "Cool Pool" and links to three online poetry articles. Thanks for all of it Elaine!

Nancy, at Journey Woman, has picked another one from the Knopf poem of the day series. It's Rumi, another of my all time favs!

From MotherReader a poem from an English/Spanish collection of poetry for kids. Wonderful selection! She quotes my man Yoda as well - go see.

Karen has another new-to-me blog (I am loving this!) full of fantastic writing and poetry. Today she has a poem by Richard Wilber titled "The Writer".

I'll be busy teaching and doing all that library work for the rest of the day, but if you leave me a comment if you are posting Poetry this lovely April Friday I will continue to round 'em up! Ye haw! This is FUN!


More, More, More said the baby! I put the kiddos down early tonight (and I will pay for that tomorrow morning, you can be sure...) and I am knee deep in wonderful poetry posts here.

Jone aka MsMac posted some fabulous student poetry at Check It Out. She even has a little movie they made!

HipWriterMama has a poem by William Wordsworth. She is talking about making donuts and writing - good combination!

Kelly at Big A, little a has Animal Poems for the little ones. It's a Valerie Worth and Steve Jenkins combo.

Alkelda gives us a photo of herself as a young summer girl, and an enchanting poem to match.

Gregory K. is posting an original poem every day for April's National Poetry month. Today's is How I Save Money. Looks like a fun way to do it!

Kelly Fineman is another poet among us. She gives us an original poem about footwear. With all the rain and mud we have here today, this bit of lady's shoe history is quite fascinating!

Tricia at Miss Rumphius Effect is in today with some bat poetry. She gives us an original poem and D. H. Lawrence, as well as links to some great bat books.

Mother of Invention, at Spilling Out has some of her original cloud poems and lovely photos. Here is another new-to-me blog that I am enjoying.

Holly Doe wrote about a Smushed Peanut and a technology tidbit on Google Booksearch at the Mombrarian. I want to explore that Google Booksearch a bit more myself!

Susan at Chicken Spaghetti is in with a post about a picture book "Cat Poems." I bet my brother would like this book. (I know someone with cats in the double digits... ahem. It's not me, by the way. I only have one.)

Liz in Ink has written about what poetry IS. What an interesting discussion! I am with Valerie Worth - it's the puddle.

Katie at PixiePalace has bird song for us today. I am listening to a robin sing as I read her post - Ah spring!

Jennie gives us John Donne at BiblioFile. Is it really almost the end of the semester? So soon? *sigh*

Melissa Wiley at Here in the Bonny Glen shares a dad's poem by Thomas Hood about the joy of four year olds. I can so relate!

And for the first time, Elizabeth shares another funny dad poem by Michael Rosen. Nothing happier than watching kids laugh.

Here's one more new-to-me blog called By Singing Light. (Host Friday Poetry and you are really in for some treats! I can't believe how amazing this experience has been!) MaureenE gives us my favorite Wordsworth poem. She has posted a poem a day for the month of April, so you can enjoy browsing the rest of her posts as well.

Miss Erin is reading from King Lear. She has some awesome passages for us.

Little Willow has stars and fireflies from Robert Frost. Those summer nights are coming soon...

Suzanne has a lovely little poem by Luci Shaw for us at Adventures in Daily Living. Here is another sweet sound that points toward summer.

At A Year of Reading Mary Lee is reviewing Teaching With Fire. Anyone who teaches and has been doing it for a while will be inspired by this book. Go see what she has to say.

Whew! What a fabulous list of poetry for this weekend! If I have missed anyone, let me know. And sit back and enjoy...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

April 26 Haiku

three red tulips.JPG

They stand nose to nose;
each reflecting the color
of his brother.

After a day away from each other my boys delight in being together in the evenings. They fight over wanting all the same toys and then they hug each other and crow with laughter. They get right up in each other's face and Punkin pokes Buddy in the nose.

"Nose" he says. Buddy grins. He pats him on the head.

"Head" Punkin says, and so it goes.

Their warm brown skin glows. Each one's eyes reflect the depth of the other's. I stand back, watching the joy of brothers. Thank you Jesus!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

April 25 Haiku

new maple leaves 5.JPG

They wave cheerily
at the hospital window -
little lime green leaves.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

April 24 Haiku

new maple leaves 6.JPG

Small green hands uncurl
astonished in the sunshine;
today is their birthday!

Today is one of my very favorite days of the year - the day the leaves pop out. Driving to and from work is a wonder, the way that fresh green spreads from tree to tree. I can hardly keep my eyes on the road. Baby leaves waving all around us... happy happy day! Click on the picture to see more leaf and flower pictures from today in my Flickr April set.

13th Carnival of Children's Literature

The 13th Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Jen Robinson's Book Page. She has put together a fabulous collection of kidlit posts from a wide variety of blogs over the last month. Bloggers from all over have contributed and it is a great way to find new blogs or catch up on what you may have missed. If you didn't contribute this time you are all invited to join in next time at Chicken Spaghetti on Monday, May 21. The deadline for submissions is Thursday, May 17. The June carnival will be held at A Year of Reading. Happy browsing!

No TV Day One

Well yesterday was tough but we did it. Buddy watched TV at the hospital (many hours of it). He did fine before the tonsillectomy and appendectomy surgery. He was quite distressed when he woke up but we got through that part and stabilized. He drank and ate what they wanted him to eat and they sent us home. He had a rough night and is miserable today. My mom is taking care of him. I wish I was home with him but she is the next best thing.

In the afternoon and evening we did not watch TV. Punkin was quite upset about that. He cried and fussed and begged for a video. That just strengthened my resolve. I do not want to end up with boys who are constantly plugged into one screen or another. A little TV or video is fine but I don't want them addicted. We spent time playing outside, coloring, rocking together and reading books. Buddy was running a low fever and really unhappy when the codeine wore off so there was extra stress on all of us. Punkin knew something wasn't right and he seemed to absorb anxiety from us. I think today and tomorrow might be difficult but it will get easier the rest of the week.

There is a great book I read a couple of years ago about TV and children and how to manage it in a family. I can't remember the title or author. Has anyone else read good books on the subject?

It is not too late to join in, BTW. You don't have to go completely cold turkey. You could just turn if off for one day, or even just cut down on your regular viewing time and see a positive benefit. What if you got together with your kids or your spouse and did something fun instead of watching a show or two? Go for a walk, play a board game, cook together. Your kids might squawk at the thought of losing TV but they might also be happy to get a little extra attention from you. Or, if it's just you, you could do something special and nice for yourself that was IRL - take a long bubble bath, plant some pansies, give yourself a facial or pedicare... If you don't want to turn it off, just start thinking and noticing yourself watching. What do you get out of it? What are the positives and negatives? What role or purpose does TV serve in your life?

I would like to post a little more about TV all week. I invite you to join the conversation here and tell me about how it is in your life and your family. What do you think is good about TV? What concerns you about it? How much to you watch and why?

More links:
How TV Affects Your Child
Breaking Out of the Box
Ten Financial Reasons
Why TV Makes you Fat

Sunday, April 22, 2007

TV Turn off week

I have decided to join in with TV turn off week. The first time I did this Buster was in first grade. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time but a lot of families in the school where I was teaching were doing it so I joined in. It was hard at first. We really missed our favorite shows. But we ended up spending more time having fun together and it was amazing how relaxing our late afternoons and evenings were. We went back to watching TV after that week, but it changed my perspective on a lot of things. Commercials, for one thing. They are a lot more ridiculous and obnoxious once you get a little break. Consumerism is not as pretty once you get out from under the spell.

Over the years Buster and I gradually got unplugged more and more. I only have one TV and it's not a very good one. I got rid of cable when he was about 12 because I didn't want him watching all that junk. All my old favorite shows went off the air and I didn't get attached to any new ones. A couple of years ago I put our TV up in the attic so Buddy wouldn't get hooked on it before he was preschool age. I liked having it up in the attic because it kept Buddy from always getting into it. It's a lot easier to keep a toddler from getting into mischief with turning the box on and off and on and off and sticking things in the VCR if it's not in the room where they play. I took it back down to the living room again when the Pope died and we had a German exchange student living with us. We wanted to watch the funeral and the new Pope being chosen.

I have the TV in the living room again and I am noticing that we are getting to rely on it more and more. My boys are put in front of a TV at their day care. That is one of the things I really don't like about it there. I have questioned it and the teacher say they only use it when they are busy fixing lunches or it's raining... but the truth is both little guys have learned to sit still and watch TV more than I think is healthy for toddlers and preschoolers. The American Academy of Pediatrics says it's better to have no TV at all for children under 2. That makes a lot of sense to me. They are developmentally invested in wandering around investigating and manipulating and touching things to explore their world. They should be talking to people in real life, not watching the screen.

Anyway, Punkin, my two year old, comes in the house after school every day and goes straight to the movie shelf. He loves Thomas the Tank. He shouts with glee when Curious George music comes on the TV. He can sit still in my lap for half an hour with his thumb in his mouth and watch TV. I like the cuddle time but I don't think it's healthy for him to be so attached to the magic box already. I got in the habit of letting them watch while I am cooking dinner. Usually it is only half an hour but since they sit so still and quiet it is really hard not to let that stretch into an hour or two... LOL the free time is so attractive! So I think we need a TV turn off week.

Buddy is having his tonsils out on Monday morning. My mom is going to take care of him at her house the rest of the week while I go back to work. He has to be out of school for 7 to 10 days and I thank God she is able to do it because I don't have that many sick days left. I decided if she lets him watch TV at her house that is her prerogative, but at our house we will have it unplugged.

I wish there was a way to know how much electricity I save by not having the whole set up plugged in. I guess I could try to read the meter and then read it again at the end of the week and compare that to a normal week... anyone ever do that?

Journey to Mom
Unplug your kids - she's doing the blog challenge
TV Turn Off Network
Fact Sheets
Ad Busters
Facts, FAQs, Alternative Ideas
Crayola Activity Calendar

April 22 Haiku

reel mower.<span class=

the house finch's song
falls in cadence with the clacking;
the year's first mowing

In honor of Earth Day I have to share how much I love my reel mower. It is one of my joys to walk back and forth over the earth listening to its music and watching the spray of cut grass flash in the sunshine. When Buster left for college last fall I was worried about how I would manage to do all the grass cutting and trimming, collect all the fallen leaves in autumn, shovel the snow in winter and generally manage all the chores he used to do. Today while cutting the grass I was rejoicing to see that we made it through the winter. Mowing the grass the old fashioned way without using up natural resources is a joy I highly recommend! Remember what Grandfather said in Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine:
"Grandfather smiled in his sleep. Feeling the smile and wondering why it was there, he awoke. He lay quietly listening, and the smile was explained. For he heard a sound which was far more important than birds or the rustle of new leaves. Once each year he woke this way and lay waiting for the sound which meant that summer had officially begun. And it began on a morning such as this when a boarder, a nephew, a cousin, a son or a grandson came out on the lawn below and moved in consecutively smaller quadrangles north and east and south and west with a clatter of rotating metal through the sweet summer grass. Clover blossoms, the few unharvested dandelion fires, ants, sticks, pebbles, remnants of last year's July Fourth squibs and punks, but predominantly clear green, a fount leaped up from the chattering mower. A cool soft fount; Grandfather imagined it tickling his legs, spraying his warm face, filling his nostrils with the timeless scent of a new season begun, with the promise that, yes, we'll all live another twelve months."

I love that book. I read it so many times in high school I think I memorized parts. I went up in my attic just now and found the tattered paperback copy I inherited from my older brothers and sisters. It is full of their under linings and notes from some forgotten English class. The pages are yellow. The words still shine.

My four year old Buddy is having his tonsils out on Monday morning. I expect to be blogging light this week as I concentrate on nursing the patient back to full strength. I consider it one of God's blessings that the grocery store had our favorite ice cream on sale - buy one get two free! If you think of it say a prayer for Buddy and his quick recovery.

I'll leave you with these links to consider:

Adventures in Babywearing and Flip Flop Mama have more about Earth Day and being green.

A Mom's Journey is doing a TV turn off week challenge. I am thinking about it.... at least at our house. Buddy is going to watch TV at Grammy's house while he is home recuperating, no matter what I say... LOL She is taking care of him while I am at work for the rest of the week and Grammy has her own rules.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

April 21 Haiku

weeping cherry, blue sky 3.JPG

She tosses back pink hair,
laughing in the spring sunshine;
weeping cherry tree.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nikki Giovanni - Peace and Hope

maroon and orange day

Today has been called a National Day of Mourning for the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting earlier this week. We are asked to pray and to wear the colors of the school, maroon and orange. I wasn't thinking about those colors when I was getting dressed this morning, so when I got to school I looked through my knitting club yarn stash and pulled out the maroon and orange yarn. I braided a wrist band and I am wearing it today. I made a few extra for anyone who asks. When the young students ask about it I will say it is a prayer for peace and to support the students in Virginia who are working for peace and hope. I don't want to talk to the young ones about school violence because it is too scary and it is something their parents should be doing, but I want to spread a message of hope that people can come together, work for peace in the face of violence and support each other with prayers when tragedy strikes.

I was deeply touched to read Nikki Giovanni's words at the convocation at Virginia Tech on Tuesday. She is a writing teacher on the faculty there and I love her poetry. For my Friday Poetry submission today I want to quote some of what she said:
"The Hokier Nation embraces our own
with open heart and hands
to those who offer their hearts and minds.
We are strong and brave
and innocent and unafraid.
We are better than we think,
not quite what we want to be.
We are alive to the imagination
and the possibility we will continue to invent
the future through our blood and tears,
through all this sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail, we will prevail."

Weekly Reader has a blog. They are posting about Giovanni's poetry today too and inviting others to read her work and post comments on it. I offered a link to my haiku written on Tuesday after hearing the news. I invite you to post your response as well and share in the hope and comfort that poetry offers.

I believe the best response to violence is words of peace. Coming together gives us strength through hope.

Edited to add: 7Imp has a video of the speech and links to the transcript, thanks to Marcie at World of Words.

The Poetry round up is at Big A, little a.

Join the Carnival

Today is the last day to submit to the April Children's Literature Blog Carnival. Anything you've posted about children's books, learning to read, writing by or about children, literacy, sharing poetry or stories with children... you get the picture. Everyone is welcome to join in! The Carnival will be hosted by Jen Robinson. You can email her or submit your post at the carnival site. Midwestern Lodestar hosted last month's Carnival. Carnivals are a great way to find new blogs and share what excites you about children's literature. Look over your archive of the last month, pick your favorite post and jump in!

April 18 Haiku

picnic willow

willow leaves
my lace curtain;
robin's song my tea

How Many Spots Does the Leopard Have?

by Julius Lester, illustrated by David Shannon. Scholastic, 1989.

I am reading this collection of folktales to my first graders this month. They are on the edge of their seats. They can hardly contain themselves till I get to the end of the story with all their questions and comments. I am one of those readers who doesn't like to be interrupted. I think it breaks up the magic of the story to have questions interjected, even for important vocabulary. I would rather have the listeners hold their questions and try to figure out the meaning from the context, so I ask them to listen and then open the floor for comments at the end. These stories are so exciting and fascinating the children are bursting with things to say.

Lester has a unique style that blends poetic language with complex description that beguiles children and excites them. He starts the story "Why Dogs Chase Cats" with "Long before time wound its watch and started ticking and chasing after tomorrow, which it can never catch up to, well, that was the time when Dog and Cat were friends." He describes dog as having "the best hearing of almost any animal in the world. Dog could hear a raindrop fall on cotton." When dog tries to scare away Gorilla, Gorilla picks him up and throws him over his shoulder. "It was three days and five nights before Dog came down to earth." Lester says. The children puzzle over that. They know that doesn't make sense, what could it mean? Several children speculated that Dog was thrown up to the moon and by the time he came down the earth had rotated into next week.

Many of these stories read like a child's dream, with a logic that is magical and resolutions that answer our deepest fears. Lester has fabulous monsters so scary that "even the moon wishes she had someplace to hide." In the story The Bird That Made Milk a group of children run away from home to try to bring back the bird they let escape. When the Monster Who Eats Children comes knocking on the door where the children are hiding, the oldest boy has magic to make a new door in the back of the house. The children escape and run until they are tired. They climb trees and sing to the tree "Be Strong! Be Strong!" so the Monster cannot chop down the tree. When the children are tired and out of breath from singing a flock of birds comes out of the sky and carries them home to safety. My students are breathless with anticipation over what will happen to these mischievous children and visibly relieved when they find their way home to their welcoming parents.

Julius Lester is African American and Jewish. He has been on the faculty at University of Massachusetts since 1971 as a professor in the Judaic and Near Eastern Studies Department, and adjunct professor of History. He has published 35 books for children and adults. He has recorded two two albums of original songs. He is an accomplished photographer with photographs in the Smithsonian, permanent collections at Howard University and several high profile shows. He blogs at A Commonplace Book, where his photographs, essays and favorite quotes inspire me every day.

More links:

Book list
Author's Guild home page

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Jacqueline Woodson on Writing and Home

grape hyacinth zoom.JPG

Jacqueline Woodson has an article in the Horn Book for March/April 2007. It's an adaptation of her Zena Sutherland Lecture "How Do I Come Home Again?" from May 5, 2006 in Chicago. In it she discusses her writing process as related to finding the home within herself. About home she says, "This was always home to me - that place I could get to inside myself that didn't know my name, that had never read a book of mine, that loved me unconditionally." How wonderful to have such a strong sense of self and such a deep grounding in home.

She describes a school visit where she eats lunch with the teachers before meeting the students. She recognizes that these author-visiting-a-school lunches are really interviews with the "gatekeepers", where the teachers are testing out the author to see how she/he is going to perform for their students. Naturally the teachers want to know about her writing process (don't we all). She says,

"My writing process is about finding time to write while dealing with the emotional struggles of trying to raise a three-year-old of color in a world where little colored girls still struggle over their self-image." Some of the teachers nod - how does one do this? Because it's not a question about Motherhood - it's a question about teaching and learning. It's a question about changing the world. How do we walk into the world and help children understand their importance here? How do we walk and work and write against hatred and intolerance and internalized racism and classism? How do we get young people to exist on this earth, in this country, in this city, in our homes and classrooms - unafraid? This is my writing process - to walk through the world with my eyes wide open with the hopes of making it safer for my child and all children. But how, the teachers want to know. "I don't know", I say, the tuna fish going chalky in my mouth. I really don't."

She goes on to describe how her stories come to her and how the characters tell her things and she writes them down. She listens and she closes her eyes and types. She says she trusts the stories. She says she refuses to listen to doubt because "doubt stops the pen cold." I need to learn that trick - refusing to listen to doubt. These days doubt dogs me day and night.

At the end of her article she says "Home is here - this place inside of me, inside of each of us, that we curl into. The place that keeps us whole. That keeps us happy. That keeps us... on our way."

I can think of a long list of things I haven't done or haven't finished or meant to do better in the past few months. Some times I get really stressed about all the balls I am dropping. One thing I have found great pleasure in lately is writing haiku and taking pictures. They aren't the best haiku and photographs I have ever seen. There isn't much concrete reward for flower pictures or haiku. Doing this is not as important as my teaching work or my parenting. But sharing my haiku and my pictures is helping me to find the home within and that is giving me joy.

Woodson says she wants to use writing to make the world safer. She wants to use writing to show people their own power, the power inside their dreams. I think blogging and writing haiku and taking photographs of my garden is doing that for me. Thank you Ms. Woodson for affirming that for me today.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

April 17 Haiku

grape hyacinth 3.JPG

grape hyacinth -
blue flame of hope raised above
the tired ivy

Making a List

I have been toying with the idea of making book lists for the past six months or so. I thought about:
  • Making lists in blog posts and linking them in my sidebar; but if it is just a plain list with no links that seems boring to me.
  • I would want to have links to Amazon or somewhere so you could read reviews and see book covers, and I don't feel totally comfortable linking a big chain bookstore.
  • I thought about making a list at Amazon and linking that - I have explored other peoples listmania lists and experimented with that. I just don't like feeling like I am selling for them.
  • I thought about using LibraryThing to make a list by tags. I am not good about being consistent and thorough in my tags. I just spent about an hour editing tags to match "board books" with "board book" and "primary" with "primary grades". Tags are always a work in progress with me.
  • The other thing about LibraryThing is that not all my books are in there and not all the books in my list are actually owned by me. Most of the ones I borrowed from the library and loved enough to want to include are tagged "wishlist", but not all.
  • Of the books I actually own, I have only LibraryThing cataloged the ones I want to discuss or recommend. Mostly they are by, about or illustrating people of color, are kids' books, or deal with education, adoption or parenting.

Anyway, if you go to my library on LibraryThing and click on some of my tags you will see a list of toddler books, picture books, multicultural books, African American, etc. You can also see who else has those books, read some reviews and find links to the books at book sellers or WorldCat (which shows you which local libraries near you have the book). I would really appreciate it if you would look that over and tell me if you find it helpful or useful. Also, if there are books you would recommend leave me a comment and I will add them to my wish list. I am always looking for more really excellent kids books by, about and illustrating people of color. What are your favorites? Do you have a list or a link to a website that has a good list?

Monday, April 16, 2007

April 16 Haiku

snow in spring trees.JPG

Keep these things separate:
plum blossoms and blizzards;
classrooms and gun shots.

My heart is breaking for the students, faculty, staff, families and friends of Virginia Tech.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

April 15 Haiku


Rain rushes past,
laughing down the sidewalk -
green leaves leap!

Children's Health Care

I found this at Just Enjoy Him. Every child deserves high quality health care... and every parent ought to be able to take their child to the doctor when they are sick. This is something we all can get behind! I emailed my congress people and I urge you to do the same.

The Children’s Defense Fund has a Call to Conscience and Action on their website and on it, you can fill in your name, address, and email, and they will forward your email to your representatives with the following message:

Comprehensive National Health Insurance Coverage for All Children

Dear [Decision Maker],

I’m writing to you today to tell you that I will hold you accountable with my voice and my vote for enacting urgently needed comprehensive health and mental health coverage for all children now.

It is unjust, morally intolerable and economically costly that more than 9 million children lack health coverage and a baby is born without health insurance every 46 seconds in our rich nation.

* Almost 90% of uninsured children live in a home where at least one parent works;

* The majority of uninsured children live in two-parent households;

* Reading scores and school attendance of uninsured children improve dramatically after they become insured;

*The tax cuts Congress and the President enacted for the top 1 percent of all taxpayers will cost $61 billion this year, enough to provide health coverage to all the 9 million uninsured children

We can and must do better in protecting the health and well-being of all our children. Enact urgently needed comprehensive high-quality health coverage for all children now!


[Your Name]
[Your Address]
[City, State ZIP]

All children need health care, period, end of story. If you want to send such a message to your legislators, please Click Here and let your voice be heard.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

April 14 Haiku

lenten rose

bell of lenten rose,
face turned to the muddy ground;
bring me to my knees

Poetry Email from a friend


For those of you who may not know it, this week is the celebration of Yom Hashoah, honoring the victims (Black, Gay, Handicapped, Jewish) of the Holocaust. It falls on Sunday and many churches of varied faiths are honoring this holiday as a part of their services. Traditionally, the following poem is read as the 6 candles (for the 6 million who died) are lit.

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing
against a white stone....

Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly 'way up high.
It went away I'm sure
because it wished
to kiss the world good-bye.For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.

That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live in here, in the ghetto.

Pavel Friedman, April 6, 1942

Born in Prague on January 7, 1921.
Deported to the Terezin Concentration Camp on April 26, 1942.
Died in Aushchwitz on September 29, 1944.

Friday, April 13, 2007

April 13 Haiku

temple column.JPG

just for today
come sit on my porch with me -
blossoms will open.

Kiri Davis

I have posted a couple of times about the Cosmo Girl film contest. I went to check on how our girl Kiri Davis was doing today, and found this message:
CG!'s film contest
CosmoGIRL! and Take Action Hollywood announce our
Film Contest finalists.
We have determined that the online voting has been corrupted as a result of one or more instances of tampering with the voting process by users. As a result, none of the online votes will be counted, and we will submit all three of the semi-finalists to our panel of experts for final judging and selection of a winner. Read rules here.

So I guess our voting is all for nothing. Too Bad! I really hope they take her film seriously. You can still see it here: A Girl Like Me

Haiku Poetry Friday

For Friday Poetry I just want to send you a link to Wild Rose Reader. Elaine is posting several of her lovely haiku paired with some of my photographs. I am just so tickled that she wanted to do that! What an honor to see what she has done with them.

She also gives some book suggestions for teachers and a great link to a site called In the Moonlight a Worm. At this site you can learn all about writing haiku in order to write your own haiku and/or teach it.

Hush Little Baby

by Brian Pinkney. Greenwillow Books, 2006.

My oldest son is 19 so I have been singing lullabies for a number of years. I made up a song based on my son's name that I used to sing him to sleep with, until he had to have a spinal tap done during a meningitis scare and I used that song to try to sooth him during his terror. He hated that song after that terrible night. I had to start singing him something else, and I liked the song Hush Little Baby. I could never remember the words after the diamond ring line, so I just made up some skit scat that rhymed.

Since that worked pretty well I never took the trouble to learn all the regular words to that song. I still sing it to my two younger sons now and they have both learned it that way. It's funny to hear Buddy ask me if he has the words right when he is singing

"Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring,
Dink dinga ding dinga ding dink dink..."

Our library has just received the new Brian Pinkney book Hush Little Baby. Pinkney says in the preface that this song is a traditional southern Appalachian lullaby based on the English tradition of nursery rhymes. He wanted to put the song in an unexpected context so he

"created a narrative of a day in the life of an African American family in the early 1900s, in which Mama goes off for the day and Papa is left to tend to the young'uns. I also drew from my own experience of having two young children, a boy and a girl. I tapped into the way I use playfulness as a means of consoling my kids. I have learned, though, that playfulness goes only so far. Nurturing can be expressed in many ways. There's make-believe, improvisation, whimsy... But even after the diamond ring turns brass and the spinning top will no longer twirl, the best way to comfort any child is through love."

I love the way Pinkney has introduced the unexpected, whimsical elements in the illustrations and lyrics. A father's perspective of using humor to sooth his children is exactly what I think my boys will best love about this book. Don't you love the way men act silly to get a child to forget his troubles? Pinkney includes a firetruck on the page right before Mama comes home. There is nothing else in the world more attractive than a loving black man being daddy. Put that together with a bright red fire truck and you can't beat it for delight!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

April 12 Haiku

red flowering maple

maple flowers
float red above the green grass;
rain darkens the trees

The Great Circle

A History of the First Nations, by Neil Philip. Clarion Books, 2006. Grade 7 and up.

I have had this book sitting on my desk for a couple of weeks. I keep dipping into it and being deeply moved and then having to pull back to work on something else for a while. It is so well researched and beautifully written there is just no leaving it. The photographs are stunning.

This is a selected history of the First Nations in North America. The author has chosen dramatic moments across a broad range of historic movements and events. First contact with Europeans, Tecumsah, Chief Joseph, and Sand Creek are among them. Certainly no one book could cover all the First Nations or all the significant experiences. The unifying theme of this book is the contrast between the European view of progress and conquest of the land (moving in a straight line) with the Indian outlook of the world being a great circle. The Lakota holy man Black Elk said "The power of the world always works in circles and everything tries to be round." It is the contrast between trying to control creation and trying to understand it.

Philip says, "It would be easy to write a history of the Native Americans that was simply a long list of atrocities. Indeed, their story is blighted by terrible tragedy and injustice. In this book I hope to show how that history was shaped by the clash of worldviews between the Indians and the whites - most obviously in the two conflicting ideas about the ownership of the land."

This is a really fascinating and challenging book. I am just delighted to have it in my library and I am savoring reading each chapter. I would love to hear what you think of it as well.

A Girl Like Me

Kiri Davis is in second place now! Did you know you can vote once a day, every day? Go over there and see her film A Girl Like Me and vote or vote again! She is up for a scholarship from CosmoGirl. Spread the word - she is talented and smart and made an amazing film.

I blogged about Kiri Davis before; she made a film showing how young children are sensitized to good/bad images of race. She repeated the Clark doll study from the 60s to see if young children would prefer white baby dolls over dark skinned ones. Sure enough, white and black kids said the white dolls were more beautiful, better and smarter than the black dolls. It is heartbreaking to watch this film. We need to work on this people!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

April 11 Haiku


I parked the car
beside the road; walked away
toward the newly green

Going Home

by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Wayne Harris. Scholastic, 1993.

My four year old son Buddy has been sick with strep throat over and over this winter. Last winter it was the same thing. Now he has a positive strep test and no symptoms, so we were referred to an ENT specialist. He is scheduled to have his tonsils out in couple of weeks. Naturally the first thing I thought of when I got in to the library this morning was books about going to the hospital. My way of preparing him for the experience is to read a lot of good books about children living through the experience.

Buddy already reminded me that Curious George went to the hospital, so of course that was the first book on my list. Then we also have the Sesame Street hospital book where Grover gets his tonsils out. We have Cynthia Rylant's book The Bookshop Dog too.

My favorite so far is this one by Margaret Wild called Going Home. Hugo is a young boy in a hospital that happens to be right next to the zoo. He hasn't been given permission to go home yet and he is getting anxious. Luckily the animals start to call out to him and invite him to visit for romps around a magical world. He rides elephants on the African grasslands, swings with howler monkeys in the Amazon jungle, and rides a snow leopard across the Himalayas. His friends in the other hospital beds are all delighted when he shares his secrets with them before he finally gets discharged. I think the fantasy element of powerful, friendly and beautiful animals will comfort and excite Buddy.

One of the nice things about the character illustrations is that they are done in a variety of skin tones and hair types. Children from all ethnicities will be able to see themselves in this story. Margaret Wild has a long bibliography of great books written for children. She was born in South Africa and immigrated to Australia as an adult. Her books often address issues that are considered "serious" for children's lit, but which children live with every day. I like her way of offering children stories to help them manage situations such as sickness, death, loss of a loved one, divorce, bullying, grief and fear.

I am on the look out for more good books about hospitals and having one's tonsils out. Leave me a comment if you have any to add.

April 10 Haiku

new trains.JPG

spring evening; sunshine
falls across the opening land -
trains headed homeward

We live a couple of blocks from the commuter train station. I can hear the early morning whistle of a train crossing the main road as I publish this haiku. Yesterday in the car on the way home we crossed over the freight train line as a huge black engine was coming and we raced it for about 100 feet as it passed beside us. At just two years old Punkin is starting to explore imaginative play. Here he is bringing the trains home as I cook dinner...

Monday, April 09, 2007

April 9 Haiku

My cherry tree is
slightly pinker today but
still a cold wind blows.


More April Poetry Month links:
  • Greggory K. at GottaBook is posting daily original poetry
  • Elaine Magliaro at her new blog Wild Rose Reader is posting daily original poetry
  • is giving us a poem a day too!
  • I am going to try to keep up with a haiku a day for the rest of the month...

Masterpiece Theater's Wind in the Willows

Last night I had some knitting that had to be done (Thursday is a baby shower and the sweater is yet to be knit). I was delighted to see Masterpiece Theater was doing a new version of The Wind in the Willows. That's one of my all time favorite books. I watched the first hour only and forced myself to go to bed at 10. (I get up at 4:45 and I need my sleep!) I plan on getting it on DVD so I can watch it again.

Did you see it? I didn't think I was going to like it because Mole and Ratty and Toad were all real people instead of animals. It's not animated, it's live actors. After I watched it for a while I started really liking it though. It's funny. Toad is just over the top silly. What did you think?

Monday Link Love

I have been posting a lot of haiku for April's National Poetry Month. I am afraid I am behind in my kidlit blog reading and furiously trying to catch up since it's Monday and I am back at my desk. Here are a few interesting things I've read:
  • Frankie at A Year of Reading has an article at Choice Literacy on broadening the choices for beginning readers beyond leveled books. I am going to bring some of these home for Buddy. He has a couple books at home that he can read independently and these sound just right for him.
  • I heard on the radio about the National Wildlife Fund's Green Hour program. So many kids today spend almost no time at all in unstructured play and very little time outdoors. I want my kids to have the benefits of both so I am down with an hour a day outside messing around. What do you think about that?
  • Miss Rumphius Effect talks about climbing trees. That's one of my favorite things to do!
  • One of my teachers has been asking me to help her find YA books for her summer reading list for seventh and eight graders. She wanted diversity and she wanted to avoid stereotypes. Then she said they have to be clean too. I just heard about this new blog called Clean Reads from reading Tea Cozy's blog. There is a great link list in the sidebar with more clean book lists. Looks bubblicious!
  • Julius Lester, at A Commonplace Book, is asking what books changed your life. He's publishing submitted short essays in a series. Fascinating! I also love his writings and his photographs.

That's it for now. I've only gotten half way down my blogroll though, so I might have more to say later....

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter Haiku

forcythia 2.JPG

glory rises;
on every living twig
cups of new wine!

April 7 Haiku

cherry blossom buds.JPG

cherry blossoms
hold tightly closed fists against
flying snow flurries

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Kiri Davis

I saw this news on this woman's work and Racialicious. Kiri Davis, who made the short film A Girl Like Me, is up for a scholarship at CosmoGirl. I blogged about the film before. This is what I said that time:
I read about this film at Light-skinned girl's blog and watched it the other day. Back before Brown Vs. the Board of Education Dr. Kenneth Clark conducted a study to see what children would say about dolls with brown and black skin compared to dolls with pinkish, peach skin. I read about this study 25 years ago when I was in college, as I am sure many of you did. Kiri Davis, a high school student, decided to try to repeat the same study last year for a film project she was working on. The children in her study show that the messages about beauty, goodness and white skin vs. badness, ugliness and black skin are still being absorbed by today's small children.
Head on over there and watch the film and vote. She did such a great job on that film. Wouldn't it be great if she won a scholarship? This morning she is in third place. Your vote counts!

Friday, April 06, 2007

March Photos for 365

March of 365

Here's a mosaic of my April photos for the 365 project. I am posting one photo a day all year in Flickr, in the set called "365 2007". I never got around to making a mosaic of February photos; maybe I'll do it later. It is interesting to see the way the colors blend and mix. It's nice to see the snow photo change over to flower photos. It makes me happy to see so much gold and green toward the end of the month...

Edited to add - ThirdMom asked what camera I use. It's not a very good one. It's a Kodak EasyShare Z730. I got it on ebay for a good price. It does have a zoom lens and I try to use the different set modes for closeups, indoor/outdoor, etc. I am getting to know it better and I think I'm getting to be a better photographer. I wish I had a better camera so I could take really good close ups and control the shutter speed and aperture like I used to with my old 35 mm film Minolta. If you want to see some really fabulous photography you should check out the links in Photography on my sidebar.

An April Poem

wall, cherry blossoms

My birthday is this weekend, so I am going to tell you my favorite April poem.

It's Ogden Nash's Always Marry an April Girl.
My favorite lines say:

April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;

I found this poem when I was in about eighth grade and I thought it was all about me. April is a confusing mix of weather; yesterday the cherry blossoms were ready to open and the sun was shining but the wind cut like a knife. Suddenly the sky clouded over and ten minutes later the air was full of snow flurries. Then we had sun again, and then more snow. That's how I felt at 13. It was very affirming to see that temperament admired and celebrated in a poem.

Read the full poem here.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Let it Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals

by Ashley Bryan. Atheneum, 2007.
We just got this book into the library and it went out immediately with a kindergartner. It is stunning. The over-sized paper collage illustrations dance right off the page. Three spirituals are illustrated; "This Little Light of Mine," "Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In," and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." The pictures swirl with colors and music. The other librarian and I were oogling it's loveliness when the kindergarten class came in today and we couldn't stop our exclaiming over it to usher the class in the door. The papercuts are layers in large strokes of colors with overlapping arcs and swells. It reminds me of the most intricate quilting or mosaic patterns. My favorite page shows a brown infant cradled in the arms of a curled up adult with the baby reaching for God-the-parent's face as we sing the final chorus of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands"... I want a print of that page to hang on my wall!

Ashley Brian links:

Reading is Fundamental Meet the Author

April 5 Haiku

backlit daffodil.JPG

Daffodils dip
their heads in the cold wind;
sudden snow flurries!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

April 4 Haiku


Trembling golden blooms -
in the forsythia hedge,
sparrows chattering.

A Home in Books

Mitali's Fire Escape has a link to an article Mitali has in School Library Journal's Curriculum Connections spring 2007 issue. It is titled No Place Like Home: Books Can Create a Strong Sense of Place. She discusses her own frequent moves during childhood and tells about the literature that meant the most to her growing up. She is particularly addressing the way children who have changed environments several times are drawn to books that are written with a strong sense of place. She says,
"Displaced youngsters want to know what it feels like to have roots. Surprisingly, a few classic books from your parents’ childhood might be one way to satisfy this desire. The best writers from the past were masters when it came to creating a sense of place. If you serve immigrant, internationally adopted, or bicultural young people, you may already have noticed their affinity for traditional, old-fashioned tales."

She discusses several books, old and new, that are written with a wonderfully sensual grounding in their character's world. A Drowned Maiden's Hair is one book she mentions. She quotes a passage from the book where Maud is viewing the ocean by herself for the first time and is delighted and awed by the beauty and power. Mitali says, "
Schlitz uses the ocean’s waves to mirror love’s magnificence and potential to destroy." Farmer Boy and Higher Power of Lucky are also mentioned. It's a great article - go check it out!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

April 3 Haiku


April sunshine brings:
bees on the Andromeda
and boys with skinned knees.

A Drowned Maiden's Hair

by Laura Amy Schlitz. Candlewick Press, 2006.

Maud is living in an orphan asylum in New England in 1909. She explains that in the asylum the girls are all judged as being plain or pretty, good or bad, clever or stupid. She knows she is considered plain, bad, and clever. She considers herself incredibly lucky when she gets adopted by a pair of spinsters. They buy her all sorts of clothes and books and she thinks she is in heaven. The only catch is she has to agree to be a "secret child". She lives on the third floor of their big old house, can never go out and must be absolutely quiet. She is so grateful to be adopted she doesn't mind that a bit. She idolizes her guardian, the older sister, thinking she is charming, kind and delightfully fun to be with.

As the story goes on she learns how to play the game they require of her. The sisters, it turns out, are spiritualist pretending to be mediums in order to get rich ladies to pay them for messages from their dead loved ones. Maud's job is to pretend to be the dear dead daughter of one particularly rich woman who has said she would pay $5000 for the chance to speak with her dead daughter.

Although Maud thinks of herself as bad because she has been told that, she tries to become good in order to win the affection of her new family. She begins to develop a more honest relationship with Muffin, the servant in the household who is deaf. She starts teaching her to read. It turns out Muffin is not witless nor is she the empty serving person the other adults consider her to be. As she connects with Muffin Maud begins to find herself.

As she begins to see the adults in her life more clearly through this experience she starts to understand her own experiences, thoughts and feelings better. When she meets up with her long lost older brother she is forced to confront her feelings of loss and abandonment and grief. As she watches and evaluates the interactions and reactions of the grown ups around her we see into her heart.

The thing I like best about Maud is that she is so sharply perceptive of the adults that run her life. She watches them closely in order to know when it is safer to lie and when to tell the truth. She measures each interaction, testing the thickness of the ice and calculating just how far it is safe to risk involvement of her heart. She retreats in humiliation when she risks expressing affection by using an endearment with her new guardian whom she adores and it is returned with coldness. It is fascinating to watch Maud come into her own as she discovers which adults are truly trust-worth and loving and which are hateful.

I don't know if Schlitz has any real life connection with adoption but I think she has done a masterful job of writing a character deeply affected by the trauma. Maud mourns her losses, longs for membership in a family of love and struggles to build her identity while bewildered. The one thing I question about her is the lack of significant dysfunction in her behavior. She is called bad and feels bad but she never behaves terribly. She has a keen conscience and is exquisitely tuned in to other's moral behavior. Perhaps she hasn't found a safe enough place to act out her own angst. I would love to hear from others involved in adoption after you read this book. Parents who have actually adopted children from foster care would have such a great perspective on this book. What a discussion we could have!

I posted before that I was reading this book and included links to what other bloggers have said about it. Here are even more reviews (spoilers included).

Monday, April 02, 2007

Dick and Jane; Now We Read

A couple of people commented on my last post that they didn’t know Dick and Jane books had African American characters. I didn’t remember that either until I saw the newest issues on the store shelves. I did some reading on it today and found out that the African American family was added to the books in 1965 in the volume "Now We Read".

The books were popular in American schools between 1940 and 1970. I remember using them when I was in kindergarten and first grade. I must have stared at those pictures intensely many times because when I see them now they are as familiar as family photographs. I loved those books because I could read them and they were fun stories. I can still imagine the feel of the pages turning and recall the texture, sound and scent of the paper used to make them. After I got better at reading I remember thinking the simplicity was silly and boring. We used to make fun of them after we were confident in our reading skill.

Dick and Jane books were developed with the philosophy that kids can learn to read by mastering a growing list of sight words. The series fell out of favor in the 70s when phonics got big. The pendulum swung the other way and schools got rid of them. Some were required to throw them in the trash or even burn them.

The thing is there is a (hopefully brief) period of time when one is learning to read that this type of book is just right. I think they are good for the very beginning readers at Buddy’s level (he’s four and not in kindergarten yet). He doesn’t know enough phonics to sound out words. He is passionate about reading the print in his environment. He wants to read a real book. He has been in an intensely literate environment his whole life. He’s been read to every single day. All the people who love him spend a significant amount of time reading for information, work and pleasure. He has been drilled in the alphabet; he knows rhymes and spontaneously identifies them. He knows the power of words. He understands the language of stories. He’s been primed. When a child like this is propelled by eager motivation to read you need a fun book to put in their hands. If you can make an interesting story with 50, 100, or 200 words kids will eat it up. He is continuing to get phonemic awareness and sound-symbol correspondence lessons from me and from his daycare teachers. Decoding and phonics will develop as he continues to put that all together.

I have been teaching reading long enough to see several trends come and go. I’ve taught enough kids and adults how to read that I know the wisdom of the middle way. A little of this, a little of that, and each individual can find what they need based on their individual learning style. If one method isn’t working, try something else. Phonics, whole language, key vocabulary, you name it. Whatever lights the fire!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Easter Books

I like to buy the boys books for their Easter baskets so I have been looking around for some good ones. I shopped a bit online first, but I wanted to make sure I had the books in hand before next Sunday. I gathered up the boys and we headed over to our favorite bookstore that has toy trains in the children's section. I ended up spending four times what I had planned on, but I think it is a worth while investment!

Buddy has been going into a sudden burst of phonological awareness. All of a sudden he is reading words everywhere, asking me to help him sound out signs and spelling out print in the environment. He has a growing list of sight words. I am searching the house for Buster's old first readers and I realize we need more books at exactly the right level and interest for Buddy to discover. I was looking for some very beginning readers at level one that included African Americans and here's what I bought:
The last three on the list in particular are aimed at pre-readers. They use the most frequent words in children's early stories and build a base of sight words before phonics skills are mastered. They are short, funny, engaging stories that young children can read using memory, context and picture clues. Having real books that Buddy can read by himself thrills him. We read the Firefighters! book together twice already and he was able to read half the words himself just by using the above mentioned strategies. The look of joy and pride on his face was priceless.

I have been wanting a children's story Bible that included illustrations with people of color. I have a lot of Bibles and children's Bibles already, but none with African Americans in the pictures. I hate when Jesus is shown as blond and blue-eyed. I have an old Golden Children's Bible that I colored all the Jesus pictures over with a brown crayon when Buster was a baby. I want something better now! Here's what I got today:
  • I have been looking around and followed the reviews I read that recommended My Very First Devotional Bible (NIV) by Catherine DeVries. The pictures are simple and colorful and the people are of all ethnicities. Each Bible story is introduced with a contemporary situational story and concludes with a short prayer. I think it will be just the thing for our evening readings.
  • I was happy to see a link to Suzanne Condie Lambert's review of the new National Geographic book Celebrate Easter in The Arizona Republic at Big A, little a. It shows people all around the world in their various styles of celebration and worship. The photos are stunning and the history, mythology and practices of Easter are explained in simple language. It is really beautiful and should help with answering Buddy questions about where the Easter bunny is right now. I think his teachers have been telling the children that the Easter bunny is getting his eggs ready and watching for good little girls and boys. I hate when grown ups do that. So now Buddy has it in his mind that there is a giant bunny out there somewhere watching him. He keeps asking me where he is. When I told him that I don't celebrate the Easter bunny, I celebrate Jesus on Easter he said "Well I am not going to celebrate Jesus, I am going to celebrate the Easter Bunny!" Oy.
  • Another questions he often has is "Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?" That is a hard one to answer for anyone, but especially hard to explain to a young child. I don't like to come down heavy on the sin and punishment rational. I try to emphasis the love and mercy of God. I found this book in the bookstore that does that very well, and includes children of all races. It's called Why is There a Cross? by Kathleen Long Bostrom, illustrated by Elena Kucharik.
  • Especially for Punkin I got a board book of More, More, More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams. I love that book and I am sure he will too.
  • Last of all, for myself I got Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Mary Hartzell, M.Ed. I've seen this book recommended in several places and I am looking forward to getting into it.
  • Buster's not getting any books from me this year. I figure he has enough to read at this point in his freshman year of college. I am sending him a bunch of chocolate though!
What's in your basket this spring?